ALBUM: DIVISIONS // ARTIST: STARSET
With more polish and stomp than a brand new pair of Docs, the latest album DIVISIONS from cinematic rockers STARSET paints an immersive and defiant sonic universe laden with EDM, djent and a whole lotta crunch.
Renowned for their penchant for huge production and sci-fi leanings, Ohio collective STARSET have steadily tip-toed around the rock label with each release since their inception in 2013. Brandishing the futuristic theatricality of Muse mixed with surging heaviness and sountrack-ready arrangements, STARSET have never been ones to do things by halves, and their third full-length continues the quartet's foray into high-concept sonic waters, led firmly once again by the group's chief aural architect Dustin Bates.
DIVISIONS kicks off in dystopian fashion with A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE offering up the state of affairs in the latest STARSET universe - a future where the world is splintered by technology and the war for human consciousness is well underway (and heavily influenced by electronic production). Here already it's clear we're in for yet another crystalline outing as the narrative pierces out through some heady mixing before jumping into the lush and menacing MANIFEST. Merging sprawling textures with EDM and dense riffs, the track is ultimately an easy listen with the crunchier moments shaking up the cleaner interludes, and gifting just the right amount of polyrhythmic grit to bolster this as one of the standout tracks on the album.
ECHO jumps up next, flashing futuristic introspective narratives and softly dramatic arrangements that build and dissipate seamlessly, while WHERE THE SKIES END hurls in a touch of djent as some skittering instrumentation anchors Bates and his sturdy vocals. But never ones to truly stay in one sonic place for too long, PERFECT MACHINE hits the STARSET emotive accelerator soon after, swinging icy tones over a much softer outing that offers synthy respite in its more ambient moments.
Returning to some slightly more upbeat waters, the chuggy TELEKINETIC barrels in next, wielding sweeping and occasionally plucked strings amid visceral arrangements and some buzzing tones that'll chop down the tree in your front yard while slicing through your speakers. And while there are perhaps less significant contrasts taking place here than on some of its sonic cousins on DIVISIONS, TELEKINETIC's relentless tendencies make for an enjoyable journey and highlight STARSET's dedication to formulating their interactive narratives as the outro places you into the STARSET universe with a breathy unknown figure making their way in this dystopian world.
As the album continues into its second half we journey amongst fluttering synths (STRATOSPHERE), mainstream melodics (FAULTLINE, WAKING UP), simmering theatrics (SOLSTICE) and orchestrally drizzled EDM (TRIALS) as the arrangements rise and fall with brooding and bubbling intensity like a sci-fi-laden accordion.
Penultimate track OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE continues down an electronic wormhole, but this time taking beefed-up guitars for the ride as Dustin Bates dabbles in some stadium-ready pop rock vocals, turning up the rasp at times and emphatically calling-to-arms a riot in the DIVISIONS universe, before closing tune DIVING BELL drops the bleak and tense tendencies and offers up one of the prettiest tracks on the album. Packed full of soaring and crystalline vocals and sparse, bubbling electronics, it's an extremely affectionate track - yet somehow the sentimentality doesn't feel misplaced after the rolling journey DIVISIONS has taken us on. DIVING BELL is a total warm and fuzzy spectacle, but somehow it's hard not to get caught up in the pomp and power surging beneath the belting vocals, and the closing outro builds into a defiant, crackling chorus; a rebellious warcry that feels like we've just been privvy to an insular uprising that has spilled out into reality.
As is to be expected with STARSET, there's a load of overarching narratives and concepts weaved throughout DIVISIONS as the album deviates from a straightforward listening adventure into something that cries out to sit beneath glossy Hollywood visuals. And while there's not a lot of detours from the tried and true "crowd-pleasing-anthemic-stomper" arsenal, when something is executed so flawlessly this fact becomes less of a detraction and more of a study in merging approachable art with clear-cut technique (and the occasional crushing riff for good measure). Ultimately, DIVISIONS is like stumbling into a clandestine sci-fi parallel universe that'll submerge you into its rich and dynamic world if you let it - and it'll pay you handsomely in return.
BY TIANA SPETER